Friday, March 14, 2014

Saving His Family Jewels From The Lion

Here's an entertaining story from a pilot in South Africa which I have extracted from the February issue of the Global Aviator:

There I was. What now?
by Gary Wiblin

I packed away the family jewels faster than the blink of an eye!

It was a gloomy morning as I took off from PE’s runway 26 and turned out right for a game farm called wandwe, just 30 or so minutes to the North of PE. I was to fetch a group of American tourists who had come to the end of their stay and needed to begin the long journey back to the USA. I was flying a Caravan C208B and I leveled off at flight level 070 and engaged the autopilot. 

This is always my favourite part of a charter flight, when I am alone in the aircraft and sitting in smooth conditions with the autopilot engaged. It is a time of reflection, a time to be fascinated by flight and grateful to be a professional pilot. I always love sitting up there in the sky, all on my own, in a multi million Rand machine, with everything purring just as it should, watching the world slide by below me. It is a feeling only we pilots know and we cherish it. 

All too soon it was time to begin descent into Kwandwe and I disengaged the autopilot and flew by hand until overhead the field to ascertain the wind direction. It looked like the Northerly runway was a good option and I flew the correct joining procedure to end up on final approach. It was then that I noticed a fully grown giraffe ambling out of the bush nearby. Dang. Would he remain clear of the runway or would he stroll in front of me? If he did stroll onto the runway, a go around would have to be executed rather smartly to gain sufficient height to avoid getting a giraffe head through the windshield. I decided to rather do a flyby and hopefully scare him off. This I did and when I had repositioned on final approach he was exactly where he had been before. A placid chap this giraffe was. In fact he was now noshing on some foliage near the edge of the runway and I decided to continue with the approach and landing and be on the alert for a go around at any time. 

All went well and my new tall friend never even glanced in my direction as I landed, turned around, and taxied to the concrete block that served as a dispersal area. All had gone well. Upon shutting down I opened the door and hopped down to the pavement. I was by this time dying for a pee so I strolled over to a bush about 100 metres away and began doing my business. I was about mid pee when I noticed that under another nearby tree there was a large male lion that was stirring
from his slumber and was now taking note of the new intruder on his territory. Well, I packed away the family jewels faster than the blink of an eye, covered the 100 metres in a flash and was up the Caravans ladder quicker than a jackrabbit. The door though was still chained open (a Caravan has an annoying system of keeping the pilots door open and if you forget to unhook the chain before entering the cockpit you need to exit again and unhook it). Double dang. I was now in the aircraft but with the door stuck open. The lion had by now sauntered a bit closer to take a closer look at his possible next meal and I sat rigid in the cockpit wondering what the heck to do next. Would he figure out how to hop up the stairs for a quick snack? I’ve never been so scared in my life. 

Thankfully he merely strolled around the aircraft, yawned loudly and sauntered off into the bush again and I lived to fly another day. The passengers soon arrived and I had to get out and pack all the baggage into the pod but I did feel a bit better knowing that the lion would now have a wider menu to choose from should he return for another look. And I was also now rather expeditious at climbing those stairs speedily. 

Thankfully the rangers were on hand to chase the offending creature with their vehicles and we soon got airborne and headed for PE where my pax would begin their journey back home.

The life of a charter pilot – it cannot be beat!

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